When I became more conscious of what I feed my family, I also was a little saddened to think they may not experience some favorite treats from my childhood. There were a lot of “I would never”s in those first years. Since then I have tried to relax about TRULY occasional treats. At the same time I have discovered a surprising amount of natural or organic replacements for some of the worst offenders that make it easy to serve a fun organic treat for kids.
Dirt & Worms was a dessert I only had once or twice growing up, but it made a lasting impact. The whole idea of this treat is so much fun for kids. It looks like mud but tastes like cookies and pudding. What could be better? Luckily it is pretty easy to fix the recipe to meet my standards. For my son’s 4th birthday we took it up a notch and made Bears on the Beach. It was a charming little special treat for the kids in his preschool class without compromising my values.
I know a lot of people who follow an organic lifestyle also strive to eat ‘clean’, ‘real’, or ‘whole’. And rightfully so. The majority of processed foods are packed with chemicals, fillers, and additives that no one can pronounce much less understand. At the same time processed foods are popular for a reason. I strongly believe in taking advantage of shortcuts where possible, as long as I don’t have to sacrifice what is important to me in the process.
For me, organic processed foods are awesome. I think it is completely obvious why this segment is growing so fast in the grocery stores. Making food from scratch every day, every meal is hard! Only eating whole foods as they exist in nature is a challenge and can really limit your options. Unless you are a great planner (which I & most of America are certainly not), or you have a significant amount of time available to dedicate to prepping your meals (again, I do not and I doubt you do either), restricting yourself to a real food diet is setting you up to fail. Keeping a healthy balance is key.
Yes you can make pudding from scratch, ensuring all components are carefully selected. Yes, many people choose to make graham crackers themselves (although I doubt they get those cute perforation holes!). But you can also buy certified organic instant pudding mix and organic graham crackers. Both are purchased very easily and inexpensively. Neither contain any freaky sounding chemicals, artificial food dyes, or fake flavors. I am at a point in my life when time is much more valuable than anything else. Knowing I can continue to keep toxic pesticide residue and GMOs out of my kids diet while easily making them a treat they will talk about for days is a huge win in my book.
This Bears on the Beach version of Dirt & Worms actually stemmed from the strict ‘no nuts’ policy at my son’s preschool. All birthday treats need to be cleared through the front office in original packaging. Anything homemade needs to have the packaging of all ingredients brought in for review. I know this is a very common practice and one that is important to keep all kids safe. The rule at our school is nothing that was even produced in a facility that produces other products containing nuts will be allowed. All nutrition labels now call this out in the ingredients, making it easy to comply. The organic “oreos” I (rarely) buy did have a shared facility notification so I knew that was out.
I quickly decided ground graham crackers would make a tasty replacement for the “dirt” but it didn’t have quite the same look. We went with ‘sand’ for the cracker crumbs. I changed the chocolate pudding to vanilla so it would not be as stark of a contrast. Last I switched out the gummy worms for gummy bears. I actually wanted to put a little blue natural food dye in the pudding to give the effect of water but my son was not on board with that! Preschoolers can have such strong opinions 😉
I recently remade this treat as a special summer dessert for my family. And maybe a little bit so I could try the blue dye thing. It was so much fun seeing their faces light up and let’s be honest, this is even fun for adults. If you want to surprise your family with a fun summer dessert or are searching for a unique pot luck or picnic contribution look no further!
Pudding – The first time I made this I used a cook and serve organic vanilla pudding from the European Gourmet brand (available here, Meijer, Whole Foods, and more grocery stores). I do like this brand and will use it again. However, I made a double batch and greatly underestimated the amount of time it would take to get 4 cups of ice cold milk to a boil over medium-low heat! Thankfully I did this the night before and let it cool overnight in a bowl with plastic wrap pressed along the surface to prevent pudding skin. Whole Foods has a 365 Organic instant pudding mix that we like a lot too.
Graham Crackers – Organic graham crackers are easy to find and inexpensive. Annie’s Homegrown makes a great version. Meijer and Whole Foods have store brand organic versions. They are even frequently included in store sales and taste great. We have used these sticks from Back to Nature Foods to make rafts for our Bears in the Pool version!
Gummy Bears – Black Forest Organics have really grown recently and can be found at grocery stores, drug stores, gas stations, and of course Amazon. They even have a gummy bear/gummy worm combo pack in case you want to change things up!
Food Color – If you do want to make the pudding ‘water’ blue or try another fun variation, finding a safe food color is important. There are plenty of natural methods to make your own but luckily there are now a few decent options available for purchase. Take a look at ingredients because even some claiming to be “natural” may still have questionable ingredients. I really like these powders as well as these liquids. The colors won’t be as vibrant as conventional artificial colors but they certainly serve their purpose. Artificial food dyes have been linked to a variety of health problems, particularly in children. Fake colors just aren’t worth it.
Bears on the Beach
A fun organic treat for kids, Bears on the Beach is an easy spin on the classic kids dessert -dirt & worms.
- 1 package Organic Vanilla Instant Pudding sub: Cook & serve pudding
- 3 Organic Graham Crackers
- 12-16 Organic Gummy Bears
Make pudding according to package directions. Pour into serving dishes, cover top with plastic or beeswax wrap (press along surface to avoid pudding skin). Let cool.
Pulse graham crackers in food processor or blender until desired texture is achieved.
When pudding is cool, remove plastic wrap, sprinkle graham cracker crumbs and add gummy bears to each serving dish. Enjoy!
If desired, food color can be added to pudding before it goes into serving dishes.